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This is not the National League

It’s much, much better.

Papakura City 2, Claudelands Rovers 3
Bill McKinlay Park, Auckland, March 16 2013

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There’s a big final on this weekend and there’s nothing else like them! The pressure, the drama, the atmosphere, the anticipation of two top sides clashing head to head. It’s the day that everyone looks forward to. The climax. The pinnacle. The ultimate. The stakes are huge. There can only be one winner. To the victor goes the spoils and to the runner up, the long slog of another tough season ahead that begins again in the same place as the last one – from square one.

Oh and by the way, the ASB Premiership is also being decided this weekend.

This is not a preview, nor is it a report on the National League Final, because I’m not going. Another ‘Super City Derby’ between Waitakere United and Auckland City FC – I’ve written about them before, seen them before, and despite various attempts to stir them up and brand them as ‘New Zealand’s Old Firm’, the fans of both clubs aside, I doubt anyone else much actually cares who wins them. I know I really don’t. Today’s big final might be close, it might contain a lot of goals, but for those things to be exciting you still have to care about the outcome. I’m sorry, but I just can’t muster the enthusiasm and even if I could, I have no idea what I’d write about if I went. So I’m playing golf instead.

This is not a criticism of the National league, far from it. As I’ve said and others have argued before, having two dominant teams out of Auckland serves us well in getting the best results we can in international club competitions, even if that doesn’t help to make the games interesting for spectators. Club football in New Zealand is never going to pack out Eden Park – that will never be the aim and that’s ok.

What that means though is if it’s thrills, spills and the excitement of live football you are looking for, the only way is down. Way down to the lower leagues and clashes like this, the playoff final to find the replacement for Matamata Swifts in this year’s Northern Regional Football League Division 2. Now this is what you call a spectator sport.

There was so much to get excited about here. Claudelands Rovers, winners of the super thrilling two legged mother of all playoffs that took place over the last couple of weeks, versus Papakura, last season’s relegated side. And with Bill McKinlay Park the venue, an extra dose of delicious irony was added. This fine old ground is the home of UniMount, who dominated the local football scene in the 1970s and ‘80s in their former guise of Mount Wellington, before slipping back to the same tier that the loser of this fixture will find themselves playing in this coming season.

And boy oh boy, did this game deliver or what?? It seemed like it was all over at half time. With Papakura two goals to the good, they came out of the changing rooms looking supremely confident, while Rovers looked like they’d been hit by a collective bus. Kura were certainly on top and had definitely looked the better side in the opening stanza but what everyone seemed to have forgotten was that this team in red knows how to score goals and can never be counted out. It all came flooding back when they finally broke through with ten minutes gone in the second half and all of a sudden the momentum seemed to have shifted. Claudelands piled on the pressure but time marched on and despite several decent chances, it looked like it was too little too late until second half injury time when Bryce Wilson levelled the scores and sent the match into extra time.

The first half of extra time was scrappy and frantic with chances at both ends, then early in the second, who else but Warrick Gibson, prolific goal machine from the previous two weeks, rounded the keeper, sent the Hamiltonians into rapture and Claudelands Rovers into the Northern Regional Football League.

A lot of people are already boldly predicting that they’ll struggle in Division 2. But I’ve watched them three weeks in a row now and thus feel qualified enough to give their future opponents a penny’s worth of free advice. They were initially counted as also rans – This promotion would go to Te Atatu almost as of right. They won the first leg 4-3. After the first Te Atatu goal in the second leg, Te Atatu were again the favourites, normal service had resumed. They won 10-5 on aggregate. At half time yesterday it was literally ‘all over red Rover’. The rest is history. If anyone in the second division counts this team out, they are in for a very rude shock.

Categories: NZ Men's National League NZ Northern Men's Division 2

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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